Monday, October 04, 2004

Pudding Club at the Three Ways House hotel. Mickleton, Britain

Tucked away in picturesque Cotswolds, the small town of Mickleton has worked like a sweet magnet as Britain’s pudding capital for 20 years. Set within the classic England of yesteryears, with rustic limestone buildings, stone villages and winding roads, Cotswolds has been scarcely altered since it was the centre of wool trade in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is this sense of preserving tradition that gave birth to the Pudding Club at the Three Ways House hotel.

From the very basic bread and butter concoction to the somewhat controversial Spotted Dick, the club was an outburst against the slow death of a dessert synonymous with all things English. Something that started off with a small group of pudding fanatics has now grown into a club that boasts of 600 full-time members and thousands of visitors from all over the world. The monthly meetings are heaven for anyone with a sweet tooth with its eat-as-much-as-you-can pudding spreads and occasional recipe swaps.

“It all started in 1985, during the days of a nouvelle cuisine raid on Britain when almost everything was factory-cooked and available in tiny portions. People from the village would gather at the hotel and often complain about the limp, frozen desserts served at the end of a great English meal.

“Instead of moaning about not being able to find the kind of pudding mum made, it was decided that one evening in the month would centre around just traditional puddings and that is where it all began,” recalls Peter Henderson, the chairman of the Pudding Club. From an informal fun evening, the club meetings became more and more regular over the years. The Three Ways House hotel itself has transformed into a pudding paradise with some of its 48 rooms being designed on pudding themes to provide a complete pudding package for visitors.

The club is open to anyone and everyone who loves the traditional English dessert and not just for members, who join by paying an annual fee of £23 and become pudding pals for life with a free pudding in the mail, newsletters and regular discounts. Besides the monthly meetings, the club hosts a Sunday buffet which is most popular with tourists.

It is impossible to mail a pudding overseas so they are compensated with other souvenirs. But basically anyone is welcome to come and join the food fun. We skip the appetiser and start off the evening with the main course followed up by seven traditional types of pudding for every member. It is not easy to get through them all but our record stands at 19 portions of puddings,” says Henderson, who took over the business along with partner Jill Coombe in 1995. He admits to being quite a foodie and loves the part where he has to “help eat the puddings.”

Mark Rowlandson is the head chef who is now an expert in the art of pudding-making. He gives lessons occasionally revealing, from his little red book, recipes passed down from generation to generation. The Sticky Toffee and Syrup Sponge seem to be all-time favourites. He laughs off the huge uproar over the renaming of Spotted Dick as Spotted Richard in some regions.

“We still call it Spotted Dick and it is among the traditional favourites at the Pudding Club. It is a great fun place to be on pudding nights and does get tedious at times but the excitement in the room makes up for it all,” says Rowlandson, who also has summer and winter Pudding Club books to hand out to the baking enthusiasts among the members.

Set in the heart of a region classified as “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” by the British government and in between the little town of Mickleton and Chipping Camden, home to Cotswolds’ famous old Wool Market, and close to Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon, the Pudding Club revels in its reputation as temptation island.
“To be able to relish the English pud just as our grandfathers did is truly remarkable. And to think we would have lost this great treat to the new fitness fad and love for all things factory-made. “Our club saved it all from dying away,” says Henderson, whose very own favourite is the Jam Roly Poly

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